MAKICHUK: The sacrifice of Kruty remembered

The Ukrainian cadets who held off the Bolsheviks. Most of them would be killed.
The Ukrainian cadets who held off the Bolsheviks. Most of them would be killed.File photo

They held back the Bolshevik Army for four days.

A bunch of young student cadets and a ragtag collection of soldiers, guarding a train station in Kruty, 130 kilometres northeast of Kyiv, Ukraine.

A few hundred up against 4,000 to 6,000 hardened Bolshevik soldiers.

Kids against men, in one of the coldest winters, deployed 106 years ago on January 29 1918.

Some had seen combat, some had never held a gun in their lives.

Some came from the First Ukrainian Military School named after Bohdan Khmelnytsky, some from St. Vladimir's University — students of hydraulic school, medical school, etc.

They were assisted by the Death Hut, which was formed from soldiers who had returned from the fronts of the First World War.

Soldiers of the Free Cossacks from Hlukhiv were also present. These formations became the main fighting force near Kruty, which was joined by students and high school students from Kyiv.

Like the famous Alamo in Texas, which bought crucial time, so did the Battle of Kruty.

Led by General Mikhail Muravyov, the Reds were advancing toward Kyiv, with only the cadets in front of them.

An easy exercise, they thought. We will easily brush them aside, they thought. They thought wrong.

The cadets and their allies would hold them, to the last man.

Heavily outnumbered (estimates put their number between 500 and 600), the Ukrainian defenders fought fiercely to protect Kyiv from the advancing Bolshevik forces.

The heat of the battle is believed to have lasted at least five hours, perhaps longer. It also took several days to fix the dismantled rail line and reorganize. 

Like Spartans, the defenders fought to the death — most of the cadets were killed in battle.

There is no official estimate for the number of deaths, but according to the participants of the battle, around 250 to 300 Ukrainian defenders died at Kruty.

Some reports say 30 cadets were captured, tortured and executed, except for two. Other reports say the 30 were killed during a retreat and that the Ukrainians had run out of ammo.

They were later buried at Askold's Grave in Kyiv.

The losses of the victorious Bolsheviks, according to one report, reached 300 people killed.

Despite the defeat, what the Ukrainian defenders achieved, was remarkable. It would, in fact, make history.

Ordered to detain the Bolsheviks for one day, Ukrainian troops were able to detain them for four days.

That was just enough to ensure that the foundation of Ukrainian statehood was laid for centuries ahead.

The protagonists from the film, 1918 The Battle of Kruty.
The protagonists from the film, 1918 The Battle of Kruty.Handout

It was then that the Central Rada was able to sign the Treaty of Brest and force Russia to recognize the borders of Ukraine for the first time.

It also gave Supreme Commander of the Ukrainian People's Army, Simon Petliura, time to suppress the Bolshevik uprising at the Arsenal factory in Kyiv.

A dramatized movie version of the battle, entitled '1918 The Battle Of Kruty,' was released in 2019.

Directed by Aleksey Shaparev, it tells the story of a group of students, their loves and families, as plucky efforts are made to stave off the conquest of Ukraine by the burgeoning and enormous forces.

The Treaty of Brest-Litovsk was a peace treaty signed on March 3 1918, between the new Bolshevik government of Soviet Russia and the Central Powers (Germany, Austria-Hungary, Bulgaria and the Ottoman Empire), that ended Russia's participation in World War I.

The Treaty provided the Ukrainian People's Republic with German and Austro-Hungarian military aid in clearing Bolshevik forces from Ukraine from February to April 1918, but the treaty also meant that the Entente Powers suspended relations with the Ukrainian People's Republic.

The total losses constituted some 1 million square miles of Russia's former territory; a third of its population or around 55 million people; a majority of its coal, oil and iron stores and much of its industry.

Lenin bitterly called the settlement “that abyss of defeat, dismemberment, enslavement and humiliation.”

Signing of the Peace Treaty between Ukraine and the Central Powers in Brest-Litovsk February 9, 1918.
Signing of the Peace Treaty between Ukraine and the Central Powers in Brest-Litovsk February 9, 1918.File photo

Prior to the signing of the Treaty, the Ukrainian Central Rada expressed a desire for a peace treaty with foreign countries and its recognition worldwide.

Since the representatives of the British and the French Empires did not wish to recognize Ukrainian sovereignty, considering it as a part of their major ally, the Russian Empire, the treaty gave a chance for some recognition in the face of the Central Powers.

Austria-Hungary and the Ukrainian People's Republic also signed a secret agreement regarding Halychyna and Bukovina.

Austria-Hungary agreed to unify by July 31st 1918 into one crown land the areas of eastern Halychyna and Bukovina in which the Ukrainian population predominated.

But on July 4, Austria-Hungary annulled the secret agreement under the pretext that Ukraine had not delivered to it the amount of grain promised under the treaty, but it is believed to be really the result of Polish pressure.

The revelation of the secret led Austria-Hungarians to destroy the copy of the agreement and later deny its existence.

As for the Battle of Kruty, the heroic spirit lives on today in the young men and women defending Ukraine from the same dominating evil.

The heroes of Kruty remembered.
The heroes of Kruty remembered.Andriy Yermolenko and Ivan Yermosha

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